Short reviews of what has inspired and entertained me this year.

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Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

In late 2019, I decided to start recording all the books I read in a spreadsheet. Call me a geek, or an obsessive life-long learner, but it’s a habit I’ve decided to take forward into my life. After recording each book I read for a little over a year and jotting down some brief thoughts on them, I thought others might benefit from hearing my hot takes.

I guess I should begin with a disclaimer and say that these books were actually read over the past 14 months since I decided to start recording what I read, rather than a strict calendar year… But in the interests of including some great titles in this list, I’m going to mention them here regardless. …

When our Stories of Self No Longer Serve Us

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Photo by Den Trushtin on Unsplash

As I entered my final year of primary school at age 10, I had one singular wish. I wanted nothing more than to be a student road warden who helped kids to cross the road at the pedestrian crossings near our school.

I wanted to wear the bright orange vest. I wanted to swing out the big orange signs. I wanted to have the power to stop traffic, and to be seen as the responsible one who was providing a public service. …

Individualism has failed. Time for a new narrative of unity.

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Photo by Steve Leisher on Unsplash

Whenever I feel depressed about the degree to which people are disconnected from each other these days, I watch videos of flash mobs on the Internet. There is something magical about watching dozens of people in a busy place seemingly going about their every day individual lives suddenly disrupting the illusion of separation and coming together as one cohesive, cooperative unit. The look of pure delight on the faces of bystanders who happened to be in the right place at the right time has an essence of unadulterated joy that we seldom see on strangers. …

Systems change needs to start with culture change

There’s a scene in the HBO show Silicon Valley that parodies a large-scale tech conference. As each guy (and it’s always a guy) takes to the stage to present their latest tech solution, they all weave into their speech how they are “making the world a better place” through a variety of obscure high-tech products and software services. As with any half-decent parody, the meme is firmly grounded in reality, with the frame of changing the world being hugely popular in the real Silicon Valley and beyond. …

On story-listening, othering, and finding common ground

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Photo by Jean Wimmerlin on Unsplash

Back in early January, I had an eye-opening experience deep out in the New Zealand bush (translation: thick forest). Unlike most of my eye-opening experiences out in the bush, which usually pertain to the wonder of nature and the incredible intricacies of it all, this one was firmly rooted in the human experience and highlighted the importance of deep story-listening.

I was tramping with my father and sister in Te Urewera, one of New Zealand’s most incredible regions of natural beauty. …

Authenticity, coming out, and the messy art of getting vulnerable

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The day I pushed send on the first draft of my TEDxChristchurch talk to the speaker coach who was assisting with crafting engaging narratives, I knew that I wasn’t 100% comfortable with the draft and that something was missing.

Telling the story of how I had discovered the world of slam poetry and its power to shift thinking and drive behaviour change, I had at one point alluded to “something crazy going on at that point in my life”, going on to say that I had learned a great deal about myself. It was completely general, giving no clues as to what had been happening, why it was crazy or what I had learned. The speaker coach emailed back within a few hours, and straight up called me out on omitting the details. …

On the importance of systems-change leaders bringing their whole selves to work.

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Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

In many organisational settings, there is an unspoken agreement of separation between self and work. It was long assumed, in management and organisational theory, that what was going on at home or a person’s experiences outside of work, had no bearing on their ability to run a company, be a good employee, or foster a healthy team culture. Or that they shouldn’t. The occasional exception might have been telling a personal story or anecdote that was of direct relevance to a particular challenge or situation to illustrate a point or drive home a lesson.

At an organisational level, we often think that stories are nice-to-haves that happen after the “real work”. They are seen as of little consequence outside the brand and marketing department. But the reality is that organisations are made up of humans — who heavily influence the organisation — and us humans are story-driven creatures. …

How origin tracing can instil consumer confidence in regeneratively produced foods.

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Shortlands Station, Central Otago, New Zealand

When David Crutchley markets his lamb to international buyers, it’s the story of his biologically managed, soil-regenerating, lush green pastures that first hooks them. But once they taste his product, they are sold.

David’s company Provenance Meat is an award winning supplier of high quality lamb to international markets and high end restaurants and hotels, having garnered the support of chef ambassador Michael Coughlin. Passionate about raising good quality, healthy food that is regeneratively produced, David’s business plan has been to build brand awareness in New Zealand. This has now been achieved and with export licences in place, David and his team will be targeting an expanded portfolio of international markets with a story the world wants to hear. …

How one Hawke’s Bay farmer is building economic and environmental resilience into his farm.

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Mangarara Station, The Family Farm. Photo credit: Mangarara Station

At the back of Greg Hart’s farm in the Hawkes Bay, two paddocks are growing grass side by side. As part of his monthly feed budgeting, Greg measures the grass growth in his pastures and has noticed that one of these paddocks is growing twice as much grass as the other.

Greg recently took back management of the latter of these two pastures after leasing it as part of a 130ha block to a neighbour for six years. As is common practice, the neighbour had grazed the land hard while Greg has been using holistic grazing management where large mobs of stock graze taller pasture and are shifted more frequently. The animals generally eat one third of the pasture, leave another third, and trample the final third into the ground. …

Why populists are rising up, and what you can do about it

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Photo by Alexander Sinn on Unsplash

I have on my living room wall a framed copy of an infographic by David McCandless and Stefanie Posavec that depicts the two traditional sides of the political spectrum as a set of scales.

On each side, the values and virtues that the left and the right hold dear are balanced with opposing ones that are equally valid and dearly held by those on the other side, across a number of different societal issues. Where the left votes for egalitarianism, the right votes based on meritocracy. Where the foundation of healthy, thriving communities on the left might be grounded in ethics, the right may see it better grounded in morals. …


Alina Siegfried

Storytelling | Narrative | Systems Change | Spoken Word | Currently writing a book on storytelling, narrative & systems change |

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